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You Look Like: The Three Words Slowly Defining Pop Culture

Bets you will never see at a Vegas Sportsbook for lack of house odds: ‘Michael Sam verbally bullied before Week 12’, ‘Shia LaBeouf crashes Oscars drunk with anti-celebrity manifesto’, and ‘New Seth Rogen vehicle to include insult humor beginning with ‘You look like ____’. (Close cousins rarely seen today would be ‘Celebrity X called, he/she wants his _____ back.’ and ‘Did you rob Celebrity X?’) The monoculture has decided that we’re going with ‘You look like’ and I’m okay with that. For one thing, it sounds far less contrived than the others and might crop up in real conversation. Now my only question is: why the staggering proliferation of it?

Minds both cynical and non would arrive at the same answer: blame the Internet, aka the greatest misused invention in the history of mankind. Whereas a goofball type in the 90s would walk into a café wearing a flamboyant hat and the group’s funny guy—okay, I’m talking about Friends. I’m always talking about Friends—would proffer his best verbal barb and dispatch the hatted friend, said goofball in 2014 is entering a veritable torture museum. Instead of Chandler Bing, we have a t-shirted Algonquin society with patchy facial hair, two bongs, and whichever beer that payed for the lighting unleashing furious witticism that might rupture friendships in real life. This can go on for half of a scene or more, but perhaps there’s more to it than the gamesmanship of a comment thread. Perhaps they aren’t tacitly jokes at all.

The difference between ‘Celebrity X called/Did you rob Celebrity X’ and ‘You look like’ is that the former definitely didn’t happen, thus the jab is deflected by virtue of definitely being a joke. But I don’t think the current culture seeks to make jokes. The Seinfeldian observational humor has given way to something much darker: Louie. Eighty percent of the time, you can’t even call Louie a comedy. We don’t want some chicken scratch notes from an afternoon of people-watching to be orated to us anymore, we want the people themselves fully defined to the point of pain. This is why any You Look Like Moment rarely ends with one quip; the scene keeps going until the border between Ha Ha and Downright Mean is crossed. Or if that’s not the case, an offhand quip will be so vicious as to carry the weight of several fairly mean insults in succession. Example: ‘You look like a pirate!’ is not a mean-spirited thing for Kramer to say; he did look like a pirate, point of fact. On the Real Housewives of Atlanta, however, one girl turned to the group and bellicosely stated: ‘Y’all look like the 8 am Wednesday shift at Waffle House’, causing me to splash cold water on my face, vicariously feeling the burn. I mean, have you ever been that specific about anything?

If the intention of You Look Like is not to get a laugh but rather to inflict damage, are these even comedies anymore? Keep in mind that we can and do laugh when no one else is laughing, and while previous insults survived as comedy under the wide shelter of friendship, no one in Veep is friends or friendly or in the same galaxy as amiable with one another. (It is a beautiful, magnificent orchestra of vituperation, nonetheless.) We’re supposed to be reassured that, despite all the venom, these oft-incompetent folk are there for their friends at the end of the day. Things like the fact that George followed through on his begrudged airport pick-up kept the show on the air for nine seasons, kept it bearable. The Big Bang Theory rings as ‘broad humor’ not just because of its surface-level understanding of what it is to be a nerd, but because everyone mends fences with Sheldon by the end of the plot. I believe that in the You Look Like Era this will become the exception to the rule and that narcissism will prevail—e.g. Silicon Valley, Veep, and (just a hunch) Better Call Saul. Even the comedies with an ultimately altruistic core are surrounded by much less schmaltz and a lot more solipsism—i.e. Modern Family, Community, 2 Broke Girls (or so I hear), the recently deceased Two and a Half Men, etc.

Thus it almost seems like a cheap shot to blame technology for making us more lonely and friendless and unhappy. Some of us may be streaming shows set to the tune of ‘I’ll Be There for You’ on Crackle or wherever, but more likely the plot revolves around conflicting modes of selfishness. ‘You Look Like’ serves not to make an association, as a simile would suggest, but rather its intent creates a separation between ourselves and the next person, and the more of these gems we can verbally accrue, the better we can displace our diminished sense of camaraderie. But I’m probably just overthinking things.

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About the Author

Chris O'Toole (Colorado State '12, Chapman '15) recently finished a Screenwriting MFA. He has written for Livestrong, CBS, and other publications. Love, hate, and job offers can be sent to: otool102@mail.chapman.edu